Sunday, January 29, 2017

You Are Not Alone (Yes, you are) By Brian Katcher

In 1998, I decided to move to Mexico and accept a position teaching English to kindergartners. I gave up a good job, proximity to my family and friends, and a nice car in the search for adventure.

When I arrived in Pachuca, Mexico, I realized several things. I was making about $100 American a month, rent paid. My new school had about a fourth the money of my old school, and my class sizes were about twice as large. I could barely speak enough Spanish to successfully shop, let alone make friends. And anyone who even remotely cared about me was two thousand miles away. I had no phone, and 1998 Mexican internet service was spotty at best.

It would have been easy to give up, go back home, and write the whole thing off as a bad idea. But two things stopped me:

1) I'd been planning for this for years. I could not give up just because things were hard.

2) I'd have to move back in with my parents.

So I decided to honor my two-year contract, or at least get through the school year.

I ended up staying for three years. I only left because I was afraid I'd end up staying forever.

I make friends. I taught children. I fell in love. Got hurt in love.

I guess my point is sometimes everything seems hopeless. I know I've felt pretty depressed, since, I dunno, the past two months.

Just remember that sometimes the only one who can get you through a a rough time is the person in the mirror.

Her name is Dolores. She has no eyes and only appears in the glass when you say her name backward three times.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Books about surviving the worst (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

“The worst” is a relative term, and it means different things to different people. There are so many ways that things can go wrong!

But I’ve compiled a list of books about people surviving situations that you could certainly make a case for being “the worst.” Some of these are YA and some are more adult. All of them feature survivors.

Nonfiction

 I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro. Comedian Tig Notaro found her life taking a less-than-funny turn when she suffered a romantic breakup, the death of her mother, and two different life-threatening diseases within the space of a few months. And lived to tell about it.

A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard. Abducted at the age of eleven, Dugard was forced to live with her captor for years. She eventually bore him two children. This is the story of how she survived and made a life even within the harsh confines imposed by her captor.

Anne Frank Remembered, by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank did not survive, but her father did. This is Miep Gies’s memoir of resisting the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, hiding the members of at least four different families, and reuniting with Otto Frank after the war.

Fiction

Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman. Abby falls for a guy who is not what he seems. The demons she faces include, but are not limited to, an internet predator.



Thaw, by Monica M. Roe. A young man fights off a deadly ailment, but faces the fact that he may never recover completely. On top of that, he’s beginning to confront the ways in which he has wronged those around him.

This is the Story of You, by Beth Kephart. When a hurricane hits the New Jersey shore, the main character is separated from family and friends. Overnight, most of what she knows is swept away. Yet the surviving community comes together in surprising and healing ways.

Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Dystopian fiction. When an asteroid jars the moon out of its usual orbit, the resulting chain of natural disasters sends the main character and her family into survival mode, where they learn to rely on one another in new ways.

Prisoner B-3087, by Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, Jack Gruener. Although technically fiction, it is based closely on the true story of a boy who survived ten different concentration camps during World War II.




Escaping the Tiger, by Laura Manivong. Also based on a true story, this narrative follows a boy and his family as they flee a Communist regime, only to land in a refugee camp in Thailand that brings challenges and troubles of its own.

The Crazy Iris: and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath, ed. by Kenzaburo Oe. Also closely based on true stories, this compilation of short fiction explores life after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Survival Strategies (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)



A while back there was this game going around social media where you listed which three fictional characters are most like you. I did not participate because I know exactly which three characters I am, and I did not want you to know, but what the heck:


  • ·         Chilly, the snowman/hypochondriac from Doc McStuffins

  • ·         Bert, of Bert and Ernie

  • ·         Chicken Little, of "The sky is falling" fame


I have terrible anxiety. Not the getting worried about worrisome things like everyone does sometimes. Constant, always there, low-grade but occasionally flaring into meltdowns and panic attacks anxiety. This is my natural state. I have to fight it every single day.

I know that it's not my fault, that it's the unfortunate way my brain is wired, and that we're not supposed to be ashamed of ourselves for things like this anymore, but I was raised in a world of stiff upper lips and brave faces and suck it up (to be clear, not just my family, but nearly every person I've ever met), and I am ashamed of it. Almost no one knows this about me, not even my closest friends and family, and here I am telling the internet, but again, what the heck.

And I know there are some people who will say, "Well, if worrying about things is the worst thing that's ever happened to you, aren't you lucky? Some people have real problems." I know this because they've said it to me. And yes, I have been lucky. But also, ha. ha. ha. And also, shut up because you clearly have no idea what anxiety is.

The 24-hour news cycle has never been my friend. I can trace the escalation of my anxiety to the development of social media and the constant onslaught of information—true, maybe true, and patently false—and opinions—informed, misinformed, and uninformed.

These days, I feel like I'm constantly being told that it's my duty to be informed, to be watchful, to never rest.

But that leaves me immobilized, not empowered.

So I have done what, ultimately, all survivors do.

I have given myself permission to survive.

I have given myself permission to put my own oxygen mask on first, like they tell you on airplanes.

Maybe it's not admirable, but it's necessary.

If I continue to let the news into every moment of my life, I will quite literally be sick. So, in the spirit of New Year's resolutions, here's what I'm doing.


  • ·         I have an app called Calm that I highly recommend, although it is pricey, and I meditate before bed and upon waking, when I remember.

  • ·         I read. I have discovered that my anxiety is so much worse when I'm not in the middle of a good book, so I must always be in the middle of a good book.

  • ·         I have taken up cross-stitching again. I did it some in high school and college, and then I quit because who wants cross-stitched stuff. I tried to learn to knit, but it is not my thing because it's just tying a bunch of knots and it escalates my anxiety. The counting part of cross-stitch is calming. It's hard to be too worried when you're counting 40 tiny stitches. Also, it is easy.

  • ·         Yoga. I pay for the Gaiam app, so I can do it anywhere. Again, pricey, but worth it.

  • ·         Exercise and healthy food. This sucks because I love sugar, but it doesn't love me.

  • ·         Tea. Tea makes everything better. The British are not wrong about this. I'm so committed to tea that I import it myself, from the UK, because I discovered that Twinings gives the UK all the good tea and passes off the stuff that tastes like mud puddles to the Americans. My local grocery store carries Taylor's of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea in the international section, and guess what? It's like three times cheaper and a thousand times better, but they don't have it in decaf, so I'm still ordering the decaf.

  • ·         At the beginning of January, I gave myself the gift of deleting Facebook from my phone. I love/hate social media, and this allows me to be more intentional about its use. It's a good compromise between being always "on" and keeping up. I've been crazy more productive, and I've realized how strong that itch to scroll through things I don't really care about is. Facebook is tough for me because it reminds me of all the things I can be anxious about, so if I was having a calm moment, I can be reminded of all the terrible diseases children can get, and all the ways I could die before my child is grown, and all the bad people who want to do all the bad things, and all the ways people misunderstand each other, and to top it all off, the people I think are on my side are screaming that I MUST BE AWARE OF ALL THE BAD THINGS ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IF I'M NOT I'M A BAD PERSON. And then I just want to go hide under a blanket, which does neither me nor the world any good.


So there you have it. My own oxygen mask goes on first. Not just so I can help others, but also so I don't pass out—because I deserve oxygen, too. My life doesn't have to be an endless stream of sacrifice and selflessness. I don't have to justify taking care of myself  with "because it will help me take care of others." (They love to tell you that after you have a baby. "Take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby." Um, take care of yourself because you're worth taking care of, you know?)

I get to take care of myself because I'm worth taking care of, and if I don't do it, who will?

You're worth taking care of, too.

So take care of yourself.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Worrying about The Worst and Warding Off The Evil Eye -- Jen Doktorski


A few summers ago, my sister’s family and mine were at the Sundae Times, an ice cream place at the Jersey Shore. It was a muggy, August night and we were eating inside enjoying the coolness of our twisty cones and the air conditioning when a man walked in wearing a heavy black windbreaker and jeans. Nobody else seemed to notice him standing in the corner near the restrooms. He wasn’t there with kids. He wasn’t buying ice cream. He wasn’t doing anything of consequence except looking around. That’s when I jumped into panic mode. I stood up and began nudging the kids to do the same. I was seconds away from having them sprint toward the exit, away from Black Jacket Guy, when the door swung open and in walked our Governor and his family. I’d forgotten his summer residence is not too far from where we vacation. Forgotten his penchant for the ice cream parlor and bakery in our town.
When you’re an anxious person “The Worst Case Scenario” is a movie that plays often in your mind. You’re ready for it. Looking for it. On some level believing that worrying about it, actually keeps The Worst away. I know it’s an exhausting exercise in futility. (I read Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle.”) I also know The Worst is stealthier than the Governor’s security detail; it sneaks up on us, catches off guard, calls us after midnight, boards airplanes undetected.

Most times it’s unpreventable, right? Not if you have a few generations of superstitious Italian women in your corner gifted with their knowledge of the Malocchio – The Evil Eye – and how to remove it. (I believe the literal Italian translation is bad “mal” eye “occhio.”)

I should say here that The Evil Eye isn’t responsible for big stuff like terrorist attacks or the outcomes of major elections. But in some cultures, there’s a belief that The Evil Eye can cause you to feel physically ill – bad headaches or stomach issues usually – or cause you to go through a rough patch where nothing seems to go right. “Someone gave me the eye,” you might find yourself saying. The evil eye is usually bestowed upon you unintentionally by someone who is envious or jealous and takes the form of genuine compliments. The perpetrators are truly unaware of any malice in their hearts or that their kind words will have any negative effect when they tell you they like the highlights in your hair or congratulate you on your new home. That’s why you might hear Italians following a compliment with “God bless you,” especially when bestowing some kind words on a baby. “She’s beautiful, God bless her,” or “Congratulations on your book deal, God bless you.” It’s code for, “I’m not trying to give you the stink eye over here.”

But the world is full of innocent, complimentary people full of envy and unaware of the rule. What can you do about that? Good news. The Malocchio can be prevented and removed.
But how do I prevent in the evil eye you might ask? Well, Italians have a host of charms that can be worn to ward off the ill effects of those who would dare look at you the wrong way. Like the horn, the horn hand, or evil eye charm.







In a pinch, if you find yourself charmless, you can insert your thumb between your index finger and your tall finger and say the phrase “Good eyes take away the bad eyes” three times to yourself. (I guess you could say it out loud too, but that might seem weird.)
So what if despite your efforts you get The Eye anyway? Well, then it’s time to visit an expert. For years this person was my great Aunt Mary. She could perform the ritual of removing The Evil Eye either over the phone or in-person. Sadly she passed without bestowing her gift on the next generation. The secret to removing The Evil Eye can only be passed on to the next female in your family at midnight on Christmas Eve. Lucky for me, when my grandmother was still with us, she was an expert in tracking down relatives with the gift. I called her from work one day when I was going through a particularly rough time both professionally and personally; when every day seemed liked The Worst. “I’m on it she said. Pick me up at five.”

Gram was waiting for me at the curb when I pulled up after work, her handbag in the crook of her arm. “Where are we going?” I asked her when she got in the car. “To see Aunt Connie,” she said. Turns out Aunt Connie was the wife of my grandfather’s brother, Vincent. She’d never met me, but was very willing to help.
When I arrived, she sat me down at the kitchen table and placed a bowl of water in front of me. “First,” she said. “We have to see if you have the Malocchio.” She put a little bit of olive oil in a cup, dipped her finger into the oil, and let some droplets fall into the bowl. She repeated this two more times and I watched as the oil drops scattered. A sign that I did indeed have The Eye. Others will tell you the oil will form the shape of an eye, another sign. If the oil stays lumped together in one circle, you’ve been spared.

She got to work removing The Eye. It involved salt, the sign of the cross, and a series of murmured prayers. The exact details are supposed to be kept a secret unless someone chooses to pass along that knowledge to you at midnight on Christmas Eve.
But if you’re like me, always worried about The Worst and wondering how to prevent some of the small stuff from happening, you might find this link helpful.

Removing The Evil Eye

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’ve got some charms I need to order. No, really.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

When the Worst Happens by Patty Blount



There’s an old saying, You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails. It’s always struck me as stupid…yeah, yeah, silver lining, glass half-full. But like most old sayings, you find yourself quoting it when something terrible happens.

If you’ve read the other essays posted here by this amazing group of authors I still can't believe I get to work with, you’ll have noticed a trend… “worst” is a relative – and therefore, subjective – term. No matter how bad things are, they CAN (and often do) get even worse.

But we’re still here.

That’s a significant statement – especially coming from me, because I’m not a silver lining, glass half-full person. I tend to wallow and mope when I’m confronted by worse stuff. That statement is full of something I usually think I’ve lost whenever something bad happens – and that’s hope.

Hope, I’ve discovered, is not simply this amorphous concept people order you not to lose when you’re upset. No, it’s a driving force, maybe even a magical power (I’m entirely serious!) that most of us don’t – can’t -- fully appreciate until we’re forced to face its absence.

Two years ago, my niece got sick. She had a cold with a fever. Nothing to be concerned about – just the same sort of malady that strikes millions each day. Except she wasn’t recovering as fast. Now there’s concern. One day, when she discovered a lump on her neck near her collarbone, concern shot straight into red-line levels of worry.

My sister is divorced and lives out of state. She called me, too hysterical to be understood, from the shoulder of the road she was driving when the pediatrician called with The Worst Possible News.

Cancer. Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

My niece had just turned thirteen years old.

Have you ever seen someone you love die? It’s the most horribly human thing we must face… the end of a life we love. I watched my mother die of complications from her breast cancer treatment. It’s miserable knowing that your money, your IQ, your education, your physical strength, your achievements – NONE of these things can stop that inevitable progression to the end. All you can do is love anyway. 

Mom had passed only three years earlier. So her ordeal was still way too fresh in our minds when Jennifer was diagnosed. When a thirteen-year-old child asks, “Am I going to die?” – yeah, that's a perfect example of The Worst Thing That Can Happen.

Except it isn’t. Because you know, Murphy’s Law dictates more things will go wrong. For my sister, it meant dealing with her despicable ex-husband who said, “This is your fault.” As if cancer is something you get from using the wrong brand of soap or something. It meant fighting with a bank that wanted to start foreclosure proceedings on her house because that same despicable ex-husband would not cough up a single extra dime after my sister took a leave of absence from her job to ferry their daughter to and from her chemotherapy and radiation appointments. It meant fighting with herself after panic attacks all but prevented her from driving beyond that road where they’d first heard the diagnosis.

You hate it, you hate every single circumstance that led to this, but you fight. You find the strength to keep a thirteen-year-old from freaking out even when you’re so tired, you’re slurring your words. You fight through red tape and vengeful ex-husbands and a dozen other things that might have made you stumble before but now don’t even signify as obstacles. This is where hope lives… inside the hearts of those facing A Worst Thing That Could Happen that is simply too horrible to imagine.

My niece spent a year fighting through chemotherapy’s side effects and then radiation’s. She’s endured broken friendships and the loss of the Daddy will do anything for me belief she once held. But she’s here. She’s healthy and she’ll be fifteen in a few days.

There's a lot wrong with our country, with our society. But I don't say I've "lost hope" anymore. I've learned that hope is something you have to make. It takes action. Dedication and commitment. 

It takes work. 

I learned these lessons from a little girl and her mom. 


Friday, January 20, 2017

The glass is half full of lemonade made from the lemons life gave you


The joke goes:

Did you hear that I got married?"
"Oh, that's good."
“No, that's bad! He’s ugly."
"Oh, that's bad."
"No, that's good! He’s rich enough that it doesn’t matter.”
"Oh, that's good."
"No, that's bad! Being rich made him lousy at sharing."
"Oh, that's bad."
"No, that's good! He’s saved so much, he bought me a mansion.”
"Oh, that's good."
"No, that's bad! The mansion burnt down."
"Oh, that's bad."
"No, that's good! He was in it.”

We can never know what bad will come from something good and what good will come from something bad.

Like after my mom died, my sister, my dad, and I all grew much closer.

But how do we embody this? When big things go wrong in our lives, they knock us down. Health problems, money problems, the death of someone we love. It’s natural to fall apart afterwards, for a long time, even.

If someone hurts me, I don’t immediately think, oh, GOOD, something amazing will come out of this.

Recently, my agent told me that the diverse characters in WIP might put me in the crossfire in the debate over cultural appropriation. Apparently, living in Hawai’i and working there for twelve years doesn’t count. Or having two children born there. In any case, after reading her email, I didn’t think, “Yay! What an opportunity!!!” But after wallowing for weeks, I picked myself off the floor.

First I talked to my friends that are also people of color to get their perspective.
Then I approached a couple writers of color that I know. I asked a lot of questions, to better understand the issue. They asked me questions back.
Why are you telling this story?
Is this your story to tell?

I talked and read and pondered a long time before deciding it was my story to tell.
Then I reached out to friends in Hawai’i, some writers, some civilians.

One friend introduced me to Puna Kalama Dawson, a great grandma. Over the phone, Puna told me stories about her family. She offered to read my book to make sure I got it right. She knew someone else who should read it, too.

After we talked, I read some articles about her and found this quote. “Let us build these bridges of friendship that will blanket the earth.”


And that is something good. Mahalo nui loa.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

That Which Does Not Kill Us, Can Only Make Us Better Writers (Alissa Grosso)

I am an inconstant journaler. Many a year, I resolve at the start of the year to write a journal entry every day, and we're hitting the point of the year (it's January 18th, for the record) where that resolution usually goes down the drain. One thing I've noticed from years of keeping these inconstant journals is that the shittiest days often produce the longest journal entries. (Hey, that's a clever saying I should put that on a shirt.)



I guess as a writer, my way of dealing with crap is to write about it. Some people throw things, some people scream and shout, some people meditate. I write. What this means is that if I go back and look at past journals what I end up seeing is that things have been pretty awful and miserable for me. This doesn't really give an accurate picture of my life. I've always found it easier to write a scathing book review than one that's full of praise. When you don't like a book, it's easier to enumerate all it's flaws, but with a good one you don't want to nitpick and go through all the things that make it good. You just want to savor it's goodness and say this is a good book and leave it at that. It's pretty much the same with good days.  We want to savor good days and relive them again, but often this doesn't involve writing out every detail of what made a day so good. That kind of sucks the joy out of it.

Shit happens. (Hey, that's another good t-shirt, but I think that one may be already taken.)


And the thing is that it happens to everyone. Even someone who seems like they lead a perfect, charmed life has faced down some ugly stuff at one time or another. All of us, everywhere have had things happen that we knew were the absolute worst things ever. Sometimes we wondered how we would ever survive, and yet somehow we did and left a whole mess of long, rambling journal entries in our wake. When I look back on those old journal entries sometimes I'm amazed at the stupid stuff I stressed about at one point or another, but other times I find myself transported back there for a few minutes, and I am grateful that I made it through alive.

I believe in the adage to "write what you know" up until a point. There's a lot of things that I think it's perfectly fine to make up. That said life experiences, even the bad ones can make our lives fuller and our writing more powerful. I often mine life experience for my own writing, and I think it's pretty safe to say that something like 99% of other writers do the same. To keep the stakes high in our fiction we have to put our characters through hell, so it helps if we've experienced some adversity in our lives.

Now, that said there's a notion that's been expressed (quite a bit of late) that suffering and misery produces great art, and I would like to call bullshit on that. (Sorry about all the "shit" in this blog post. It's got almost as much expletives as a journal entry written on a shitty day.) 



Misery doesn't produce art, artists produce art, and a miserable artist is not producing anything. They're just trying to survive. Misery produces journal entries, but journal entries are not art. Journal entries (at least the ones written on miserable days) are venting. Venting isn't art. Sure, maybe someday down the road you'll be able to mine your bad experiences for something that you can use in a work of art, but that's just like a little reward that you get for surviving. It's not your misery that has produced the art, it's you the artist who has produced it.

By the way, a note for those of you who do plan on culling your life experiences for creating works of fiction. If you include just one solitary detail that comes from your own life, your readers (particularly close family members who recognize said experience) will assume the entire work is autobiographical. Even if NOTHING else comes from your own life, even if the character doesn't look like you, or isn't even human, they're pretty much going to assume that you are writing straight-up autobiography. So, keep that in mind, if, say, you are writing a story about a deranged serial killer and you happen to give him a car that behaves in the same erratic manner as that piece of junk car you were driving ten years ago, there's going to be some people out there who assume that you are a deranged serial killer, or, at least, harbor murderous intentions.

So, maybe you're someone who is thinking if trial and tribulation can give us so much free material, shouldn't we voluntarily experience misery? For the sake of art, should we put ourselves in risky situations? No and no. Look, there's enough crap out there in the world, and you will experience your fair share of it. That's a promise. I'm sorry. Life is dangerous, life is ugly. It's your job to survive, and the easiest way to survive is to avoid as much bad stuff as you can. Like, I said, you aren't going to be able to avoid it all, but hopefully you survive. Vent to your journal, or throw things, or meditate. Then maybe someday a few years from now when you are at that point in your story where things are going a little too good for your character, hit them with a dose of misery straight from your own personal archives. Be prepared for the inevitable assumptions that you are writing a memoir and not a work of fiction, hell, vent about those assumptions to your journal if you need to, then move forward. That's all we can do when the worst happens, as it does from time to time.

So, if you are a writer I hope that the most dire situations you put your characters in, are ones that you've made up because you've never experienced anything that awful. And for those of you that are presently facing the worst, I hope that you can make it through and know that if you do, someday you might actually use your shitty experience for something good.

Okay, I have to go now because I have at least 3 days of journal entries to get caught up on. 



Besides rambling journal entries and blog posts, Alissa Grosso writes books. She's the author of the YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular, and for those of you that have assumed otherwise, none of them are autobiographical. You can find out more about her at alissagrosso.com.

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Surviving Trauma by Jody Casella

The funny thing is you didn't know it was the worst.

That time you had a tantrum in the middle of the night and she hit you, screaming at you to shut up, hitting your so hard you couldn't breathe, screaming yourself, and then going quiet, going still

making yourself small, smaller, until suddenly you weren't even there.
A miracle, really, a great gift, when you think about it,
to be able go away like that, disappear.

The time when he came into your room at night because you were scared
of the dark and he could help you go to sleep, help you
feel better

that time, other times, you don't even remember how many times
because you were good at it by then, an expert
at going away, disappearing whenever you needed to.

The trick is learning that you're doing it, learning how to stop,
because listen:

You don't need to disappear anymore. You survived the worst.
Now is the time to stay here.

Make noise. Fight back.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Surviving Levaquin Toxicity (Amy K. Nichols)

2016 was a difficult year for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.

For me, it was easily one of the worst years of my life. Not because of politics or celebrities leaving this world too soon, but because of an adverse reaction to an antibiotic prescribed by my doctor.

The antibiotic is called Levaquin, and apparently hundreds of thousands of people have been adversely affected by it. Some have died. Some took a single pill and never walked again. After my fourth dose, I landed in the ER with difficulty breathing, extreme vertigo, racing heart and anxiety. Two days later I was slammed with joint pain, insomnia, neuropathy, muscle twitching, visual disturbances, tinnitus, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, aphasia...  The list goes on. You can read about it more in this post at my blog. Long story short, this antibiotic was supposed to get me over a sinus infection but instead stole my body and my mind, and with it, my writing career.

Levaquin left me unable to read books, recall words, or even remember what I was saying from one moment to the next. My central nervous system was so fried I couldn't concentrate, couldn't process information, couldn't cope with loud noises or too much sensory input. I found it impossible to write, not only because of difficult with words, but because it was like the creativity switch in brain had been turned off. I was devastated and scared. At one point I went to the craft store with my mom, a place that usually sparks all kinds of ideas and inspiration in me. As I walked through the aisles numb, not a single spark of creativity in my mind, I realized I'd lost something essential about myself. About my identity. So I retreated, out of fear and sadness. I stopped going to book events. Stopped allowing myself to be around people who would ask when my next book would be coming out, or even how I was doing. I didn't want to either divulge the struggle I was in or make excuses or empty promises for my writing. I pulled back from my online interactions, too. I'll be honest: hearing about everyone's great publishing news and happenings when you can't think let alone write, and your biggest accomplishment of the day is that the muscle behind your knee stopped involuntarily twitching just plain sucks.

There is no single treatment for levaquin toxicity. Heck, it's not even really acknowledged to exist by doctors. My doctor didn't believe me, and made it clear he just really wanted me to quietly go away. So I turned to the internet and the stories of those who'd been through this and recovered. I poured myself into researching what helped them, and I turned myself into a guinea pig, trying one thing after another to discover what might help me. Vitamins, supplements, massage therapy, acupuncture, meditation, qigong, clean eating, lots and lots of prayer. Stuff not found or accepted in western medicine. Some of it helped. Then more of it helped. And slowly I started to get better.

Thank God.

I don't know if I'm entirely out of the woods yet. Some have reported side effects years after taking this drug, so only time will tell.

Now that I'm (hopefully) on the other side of surviving the worst of the Levaquin toxicity, I'm able to look back and see that the experience taught me a few things. Maybe they'll benefit you as well.

Gratitude
Facing the prospect of never writing again made me grateful for what I had accomplished in my short career, publishing two books with Random House. And gratitude is a powerful thing. It saved me from the bitterness that threatened to eat away at my spirit.

Self Care
Getting my life back meant getting my brain back, which meant learning as much as I could about how my brain works and how to support it. What I learned is that our brains are a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I knew this on some level of course, but now I have such a better appreciation for that organ between my ears. If you read nothing else I say in this post, please read this: Your brain does incredible things. Take care of it. There are things you can do to support neurogenesis. This podcast is a good place to start.

Strength
There were times in this journey when I just wanted to curl up in the corner and die. But I discovered there's a fight inside me that would never give in. I don't know where it came from. Maybe it's always been there. I know from experience that I have a righteous anger/mama bear instinct that can flare up in no time flat. Maybe the fight is related somehow. All I know is it's there inside me, and it gave me the determination necessary to get through this.

Faith
I knew I wasn't alone in this--you can read how I knew this in the story I wrote at my blog--and every day I had a chat with God that went something like this: "This isn't how I end. Whatever it takes, get me through this." Now, your mileage may vary, but I'm convinced having faith that I would get better, believing each day would bring me better health and celebrating each small improvement, made a huge difference. Perhaps all the difference.

Wisdom
Perhaps the most important thing I learned from this experience is that I have to be my own advocate when it comes to my health. My doctor failed me. The FDA failed me. And hundreds of thousands of other people. If I'd stuck around and waited for my doctor to help me, I would still be waiting. And hurting. And probably suffering permanent damage. It was only by taking matters into my own hands, doing my own research, experimenting on myself and listening to my body that I was able to see an improvement in my situation. If only I'd trusted myself more and my doctor less before I took that medication.

But I can't change that now. I can only look back and see the path this journey has taken. I can only continue forward, wiser and stronger for it.